As the Red Sox approach the July 31, non-waiver trade deadline, they find their roster decimated by injuries.
With Manny Delcarmen and Jason Varitek joining the ranks of the wounded, the Red Sox now have 10 players on the disabled list — five since June 24.
Going into last night's game, Red Sox players had missed a total of 424 games to the DL this season. And yet the team just keeps on winning. The Red Sox are now just a half game out of first place, the closest they've been since the second game of the season.
In May, the playoffs seemed like a long shot and there was even speculation that the Red Sox could be uncustomary sellers at the deadline.
Clearly, that will not be the case.
The Red Sox may seek to make additions that will improve the team for the season's final 2-2 1/2 months. But soon after the All Start break, the club will benefit from the returns of Josh Beckett, Jeremy Hermida, and perhaps even Jacoby Ellsbury.
For what it's worth, Jed Lowrie (remember him?) will begin a rehab assignment on Monday in Lowell. He was supposed to be the Sox' utility infielder this season and may be ready before Dustin Pedroia. Lowrie is still just 26-years-old and quite talented. His wrist must be fully healed by now and his bout with mono behind him.
And after the deadline passes, the Red Sox should finally be able to field the starting lineup they had envisioned on Opening Day, seeing the returns of Pedroia, Varitek, Delcarmen and Victor Martinez.
As a result, it's unlikely management will make any desperate moves to fill roster spots.
Even with Mike Cameron playing at about 50% capacity, the team continues to win with the likes of minor leaguers Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava and Eric Patterson. In addition, journeyman Bill Hall has played a much larger role than anyone could have reasonably envisioned.
Incredibly, despite this unlikely cast of characters, the team hasn't just been holding its own, it's been gaining ground on the Yankees. As long as the Sox don't start to slide too far, too fast, the team will make-do primarily with what they've got.
The one area the Sox could conceivably seek to improve the team via trade is the bullpen, which is next to last in the AL with a 4.80 ERA and has allowed the most home runs (35).
However, a trade could be a dicey proposition. The club will be loathe to give up a formidable prospect for a short term solution in the pen. Anyone remember Larry Andersen for Jef Bagwell?
Trades for bullpen pitchers often regrettable; you usually end up overpaying. On top of that, middle relievers are notoriously unreliable and streaky. At best, you might get a journeyman who is in the midst of a good season. There's a reason these guys change teams all the time; inconsistency.
Ultimately, middle relievers are not good enough to start, and not god enough to close either.
That's why the Red Sox may go with in-house solutions, such as their own minor leaguers.
Robert Manuel has a 1.54 ERA at Pawtucket, and righthanders were hitting just .154 against him. In addition, his career WHIP is just 1.06 in the minors.
Once one of the most highly regarded pitchers in the organization, Michael Bowden seemed to regress, but has looked good this season. Bowden has a 3.77 ERA at Pawtucket, leading all starters with a 1.10 WHIP, and leading the team with 59 strike outs.
Dustin Richardson, already on the 25-man roster, could become the primary lefty out of the pen, instead of Hideki Okajima. The Japanese reliever has been in continual decline and his last four appearances have produced six runs on 10 hits over three innings. Opponents were 10 for 19 against him.
Lastly, Felix Dubront is another in-house candidate. In 26.2 innings at Pawtucket this season, the lefty has allowed just 22 hits while striking out 24. He's walked just nine batters, has a 1.16 WHIP to go along with a 2.36 ERA. Dubront made one start for the Red Sox this season, going five innings and allowing five runs on six hits.
Each of these pitchers represents a young arm that will not require a costly or regrettable trade. In a trade scenario, the Sox could end up essentially renting a bullpen arm for just two months, then losing the player to free agency at season's end.
Theo Epstein and co. have shown restraint thus far, trading only for old friend Kevin Cash. And that deal was consummated only because both catchers on the active roster went down with injuries. Minor League catchers Mark Wagner and Dusty Brown are both also on the DL.
It's as if the Red Sox have been struck by a plague.
July is the month when most trades are made. This is when clubs determine if they are buyers or sellers, based on their records and their playoff chances. Trades will heat up, but it isn't likely the Red Sox will be involved in any blockbusters.
Perhaps a veteran bullpen arm will be obtained, but not at the expense of a minor leaguer the Sox envision as part of their future.
The more likely scenario is that the team will give a shot to one of the young pitchers in their own system before making any moves they may come to regret later.
Relievers are a dicy lot. They can be costly gambles and major disappointments.
Sometimes, the best trades are the ones you don't make at all.